Summary: Jesus’ story of the Sheep and the Goats surprises us with a view of life from heaven’s perspective.
Judgment Day Surprises
Dr. Roger W. Thomas, Preaching Minister
First Christian Church, Vandalia, MO
Introduction: A drunken man flagged down a bus late one night. He staggered up the aisle, and flopped down right next to an older woman who was clutching a Bible. She looked the wayward drunk up and down disapprovingly. Finally, she announced to him in a stern voice, "I’ve got news for you, mister. You’re going straight to hell!" The man jumped up out of his seat and shouted, "Oh, man, I’m on the wrong bus again!"
Do you know which bus you’re on? I’ve got news for you today. You are on a bus to somewhere. It is not standing still. In fact, it’s picking up speed. If you are headed the wrong direction, now is the time switch buses.
Today we are looking at the last of three parables in Matthew 25. Jesus offered these parables as illustrations for a principle found Matthew 24. His disciples wanted to know the signs for the end of the world. We all understand why they wanted to know that. If we knew when the world is ending, we would know how much time we have before we need to get serious.
Jesus knew that knowing the date wouldn’t motivate us to greater faith. Quite to the contrary, it would just encourage our already-present tendency toward spiritual foolishness. Instead of naming a date or providing a secret signal, Jesus issues a warning. The bottom line comes in verse 42: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.” Again in verse 44, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” So much for the authors and tele-evangelists who make fortunes predicting the date!
The first parable (the ten virgins) emphasized the need for full preparation. Five girls foolishly did what most of our farmers would be tempted to if they thought Jesus was coming back on the 4th of July. Park the tractor and forget about planting corn. Why waste any money on fertilizer? The five foolish girls guessed wrong. Their master’s delay caught them unprepared. Jesus concluded that parable with the same warning, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (25:13). This second parable (we call it “the talents”) continues a similar theme. A wealthy businessman entrusts three servants with three different amounts of wealth to invest in his absence. The first two took the responsibility seriously. The third didn’t. He foolishly did what we would be tempted to do if we thought we had plenty of time on our hands. He did nothing. The masters in the parables rejected both kinds of fools.
This third illustration raises a lot of questions for Bible scholars. First, is it a parable or isn’t it? It doesn’t have all the characteristics of a story like the other two. It just opens with what English teachers call a simile—a short comparison. But Jesus doesn’t build a story around the word picture. He just uses the expression and moves on.
I consider this illustration an “un-parable.” Our Sunday School teachers define a parable as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. In this third illustration, Jesus reverses the picture. Instead of an earthly story with a heavenly meaning, he offers a heavenly story with an earthly meaning. But a parable is more than just a story. A parable is a story with a twist. We might even call it a punch line. We all know how it works with jokes. A joke is different than a humorous story. A humorous story might include funny situations or comical descriptions. But a joke has a punch line. The humor comes from the surprise ending. Even when we see it coming, the punch line of a joke makes us laugh because of the way it suddenly twists the whole story in a new and often unexpected direction.
For example, I recently added a joke to my collection of the World’s Worst. A man goes to see his doctor. He is very upset. "Doctor, doctor" he says, "you have to help me. I’m dying. I know I am! I hurt everywhere. I touch my head and it hurts. I touch my leg and it hurts. I touch my stomach and it hurts. I touch my chest and it hurts. You have to help me, Doc, everything hurts."
The doctor gives him a complete physical. Finally, he says, "Mr. Smith, I have good news and bad news. The good news is you are not dying. The bad news is you have a broken finger."
Parables are stories that surprise. That’s why I think Jesus’ third illustration is a parable, even if it is an un-parable. The parable contains a number of surprises. The last one is the big twist or the punch line.